It appears no deal closed on the sale of the J. Bruce Barnes Lumber Company acreage in downtown Crozet on July 27, the date called for according to the terms of the June 27 real estate foreclosure auction.
When a silent and mysterious bidder walked away having apparently bought the property for $1.9 million, foreclosure trustee Suzanne Thomas of the Lenhart Obenshain law firm in Charlottesville told folks they would have to wait 30 days for a deed to be recorded to learn the identity, or perhaps the mask, of the owner. No one knew the bid winner, including the local land developers who wanted a first hand view of the action, and he said nothing. He met privately with Union First Market Bank’s representative, whose name is unknown, and Thomas, presumably to deliver a $50,000 certified check.
According to the terms of the auction, if no closing occurred by July 27 the bid of Keith Woodard of Woodard Properties in Charlottesville, the only other bidder, would become valid. But Woodard’s associate Katurah Roell, the developer of Claudius Place, an approved restaurant and office project across the street from the lumberyard, said that Woodard has not gotten any call about accepting his bid since the deadline passed. Roell has been promoting a plan to develop the lumberyard into a downtown core for Crozet that would feature a pedestrian mall of six blocks. After seeing preliminary plans about use and density, the county supervisors have waved it on. Woodard is ready to back the plan, Roell said. Build-out is assumed to be a long-term endeavor.
One theory of the situation proposes that the mystery bidder at the auction was actually an agent of Union First Market Bank who got stuck holding the high bid. It was established in public record that former lumberyard owner Carroll Conley owed $1.9 million. If he actually owed more, the bank would be interested in recovering it and the mystery bidder may have been trying to drive the price higher when Woodard cooled off and stopped at $1.8 million.
Before the auction the county’s tax assessment on the two parcels set their value at $3.29 million. Thomas said at the sale that she had expected more bidders and a higher final price.
Neither Thomas nor a representative of the bank would answer calls from the Gazette asking questions about the status of the foreclosure. Law limits how long the foreclosure process can run and at some point the bank will have to put the property in its name and take on its costs, or sell it.
Roell said that he and Woodard have talked to the foreclosure officials since the auction, and they are still interested in acquiring the 18 acres. But so far they have not changed their bid.
Whoever owns the property will likely have to carry on with a rezoning from heavy industrial to the terms of the Crozet downtown district, Roell said, since the clock on the process is running.
Roell, who has promoted his plan widely to investors, said that no other buyers appeared at the auction because investors feel wary about the direction of the economy. If the cost of owning the property and developing it has to be borne for several years before returns come in, he said, the plan’s numbers look less appealing. Roell said he believes in the probable success of the plan because he has first hand knowledge of the growth trends in Crozet.
Roell said that construction of Claudius Place, once expected to begin in April, has been delayed because no sanitary sewer line was installed under Library Avenue when it was built.
“We have to put it in,” said Roell. It will mean opening a 10-foot-wide strip in the street to install the line and two manholes. He said the drawings for the project are in their fifth iteration, but he believes he will have the necessary county permit before the end of August.
“We could get started on the building by late August or early September,” said Roell. “But we have to get through all the hoops. I want it under roof by winter and ready to go in the spring.”